On the surface, Melbourne and Sydney are a lot alike. They’re both coastal cities with the two largest populations in Australia. Both have Chinatowns and huge markets and good nightlife and nearby beach getaways that are popular with locals and tourists.
But Melbourne and Sydney do have their differences. Melbourne is smaller, more quaint, and has a sort of cozy, cultured feel about it. There are crazy works of public art all over, and even the streetlights and utility boxes are painted with bright murals and patterns to liven things up. Sydney isn’t exactly a huge metropolis, but it’s a hefty walk from one end to the other, whereas Mellie is more manageable, hence the NY/Boston comparison. And just like their American cousins, most people love one and hate the other. (Personally, I find New York much too big and overwhelming, but I love Sydney.)
Out of Time?
If you’re planning to drive Great Ocean Road or visit Grampians National Park, Melbourne is worth a stop. I only had three days there, but could have easily filled a week with all the things I didn’t get to do.
Stuff to Do
Spend your way through the Queen Victoria Market. It’s a huge outdoor flea market, produce market, and souvenir extravaganza all in one; Much like Paddy’s Market in Sydney, but bigger and with some better deals. Besides the usual t-shirts, stuffed kangaroos and koalas, and postcards, you’ll also find custom car seat covers, shoes, kitchen supplies, beauty products, slicers and dicers, watches, jewellery, sports jerseys for your favorite footy and AFL teams, and live chickens and ducks in the produce area. The booths tend to repeat themselves, so don’t rush into buying something the first time you see it.
Stroll the Treasury and Fitzroy Gardens. This is a beautiful place to go on a sunny day for a picnic, some aimless meandering, and relaxation. Don’t try to powerwalk here, it just won’t work. Be sure to see the Fairy Tree and the Model Tudor Village, both located right next to the Pavillion Café. The fountains are also worth a look, and make good picture spots, and there’s a small trail that goes down the middle of the park that almost makes you feel at one with nature. If you want something historic, go by Cook’s Cottage. It once belonged to Captain James Cook’s parents and was brought over from England in pieces and reassembled. Cost is reduced with a student ID.
Hit the Melbourne Aquarium. There’s a coral reef, rock pools, a fish bowl, and a spot where you can watch the fish swim right over you. Also included with your ticket is a motion simulator ride. Don’t eat before you hop on. Admission is reduced with an ISIC or student ID. For a lot extra, you can arrange to go diving in the shark tank. Call ahead for that.
Get culture at the Melbourne Museum. Lots of European and Australian art and innovative type things are featured here. There’s also an IMAX theater next door if you want something less taxing. Check their website to see what exhibits will be on display during your visit.
Shop Bourke Street. Every kind of store you could possibly want, including a Target for your budget clothing and toiletry needs can be found here. This is also the place to find fast food, movie theaters, and street performers. On a good day you might get some activists too.
Ride the Free Tram. It’s high on my list of things to do on a budget that won’t tire out your feet. It runs along with the other trams, but it’s painted gold and burgundy and says “City Circle” on it. Hop on and enjoy a loop around town as the computer voice announces what attractions are located at each stop. It’s an easy and relaxing way to learn your way around.
Ramble along the Yarra River. Oh la la, it’s just like the Seine, except for being totally different. There are cafés and fountains and shops and things, though, so if you say a few “merci”s you might get into a European mood.
Munch at the Hard Rock Café. Not that you would want to go there, of course, being a real traveler and not a tourist, but if you have to bring a t-shirt home for someone, you may as well stop and have some of their excellent spinach dip. Drop in for Happy Hour and live music to meet locals and other backpackers.
Explore Melbourne’s backpacker bars. You should throw in a few local places as well, but if you’re looking to stretch your dollars out, backpacker bars offer some of the best deals for food and drink, and you never know who you’re going to meet. Try the Industry Bar and Lounge downstairs from the Nomad’s hostel on Beckett Street for live music, trivia contest, and dscount drinks. The Pint and Punt offers cheap backpacker meals and is located near the race course and the Grand Prix if you’re planning to take in some sport.
If you make it to St. Kilda, head to base Backpackers and The Red Eye Bar for karaoke, comedy, and ladies night specials.
Eat in Chinatown or the Greek Precinct. Melbourne has the largest Greek population in the southern hemisphere, and there are plenty of tasty restaurants to prove it. Walk along Lonsdale Street, between Swanston and Spring and see what smells good. Chinatown is just one block over, on Little Bourke Street.
Take a day tour of Phillip Island. There are penguins and other wildlife and swimming, and depending on which tour company you pick, you can get a barbeque and wine tasting thrown in. Ask at your hostel for recommendations.
Tour Great Ocean Road and Bell’s Beach. It’s along Great Ocean Road that you’ll see the Twelve Apostles. Never heard of them? They’re huge rocks poking out of the seashore that are pretty impressive, if you like nature stuff. You’ll see other breathtaking scenery along the way to Bell’s Beach, a surfing hotspot and filming location for Point Break. Whoa!
Tram it to St. Kilda. This is the seaside area where they used to film the popular Aussie show The Secret Life of Us, so you shouldn’t really need any other reason to go. If TV connections aren’t enough for you though, there are the rides and amusements of Luna Park, plenty of bars and cafes, sandy beaches, and it’s all just a short tram ride from downtown Melbourne. Plan to get a hostel room there and stay the night.